By Michael Hailu
It has long been clear that agriculture needs more young people, not only to secure Africa’s future food security but to modernize farming and keep pace with a changing world.
But what is it about agriculture that young people need? The answer may lie in the fresh opportunities created by digitalisation.
New technologies are transforming farming systems across the world, including in developing countries. Innovations range from drones that help detect crop pests earlier to mobile systems that link previously “unbankable” smallholder farmers with vital financial services.
For the 12 million young people entering into the workforce in Africa each year, this could all help make farming and food production much more appealing.
For starters, new and emerging technology means that agriculture does not have to be the backbreaking sector it was for previous generations. Digital tools are helping to automate and streamline the more labour-intensive aspects of farming, making it more efficient and therefore, attractive – and viable – as a livelihood.
With the support of digital tools, “precision agriculture” can become efficient, allowing farmers to plant and cultivate their crops with greater accuracy. This means less time, effort and inputs are wasted, and as a result, the economic appeal of agriculture is clearer.
Second, and with Africa facing a serious shortage of jobs for the increasingly young population, agriculture can provide opportunities lacking in rapidly urbanised areas.
More than 70 per cent of registered digital users in Africa, for instance, are between 15 to 35 years old. By coupling this digital savviness with rural opportunities, young people can have an exciting and prosperous future.
Finally, these young people will no doubt be attracted to the new entrepreneurial possibilities and employment opportunities that digitalisation brings, not just in food production but across the entire agricultural value chain.
These opportunities range from designing new platforms or software to making use of technology and creating access to new markets using blockchain.
One such example is the EzyAgric solution based in Uganda. The platform provides access to finance and markets for farmers and agribusinesses through a network of youth agents equipped with smartphones and other digital technology. It creates an employment opportunity for Uganda’s youth, at one end, and helps farmers improve yields and market access at the other.
Likewise, Wennovation Hub, or ‘WeHub’, is a Nigerian innovation platform that fosters innovation among Africa’s young entrepreneurs. It encourages them to tackle economic or social challenges head-on, through creating start-ups grounded in local problems and solutions.
And Afrimash, a digital marketplace, is one of these innovations. It provides a market for farmers to easily sell or buy their livestock, tools and other quality inputs ranging from pesticides to fertilisers.
It is no wonder then, that development funding from across the world, from both private and public sector players, is already directed at supporting Africa’s youth entrepreneurship – much of it within the agricultural space.
But digitalisation for agriculture is not a silver bullet, and as we have seen, enabling policies, infrastructural investments and trained manpower will be essential to reach its potential.
This is why it is encouraging to see such an important event as the African Green Revolution Forum focusing on the digital innovations that can attract more young people into agriculture.
Youth may be the future, but they too need feeding. By combining next-generation technologies with the next generation, we can work towards a more food secure and environmentally sustainable future for everyone.
Michael Hailu is the Director, Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA)